Getting Stronger: How Powerlifting Helped Me Move My Strength Training to the Next Level
Powerlifting isn't restricted to men who have thicker necks than your thigh and thighs the size of tree trunks! Check out Janis F's story of how a 5'2" former runner discovered the sport of powerlifting:
Voices of encouragement ring through the large, audience-filled room. One figure in the midst of the cacophony strains under the load he bears on his back. He works furiously to maintain an upright torso and drives from his hips to move his body towards the completion of his squat attempt. The lifter's tenacity pays off, for he finds his way through his sticking point and explodes upward, completing the squat and grinning as spotters help him rack the weight. Other competitors awaiting their attempts call out congratulations and the audience buzzes with enthusiasm.
When I began lifting weights, the idea of being the center of such an audience's attention while up on a platform attempting to lift as much weight as I could was not one I remotely entertained. I started out my strength training career unaware of the sport of powerlifting. As I researched my way through what it meant to lift weights and how to do so better with increased results, I became aware of powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, strongman competitions, and other facets of the strength sport world - aware, but not informed. I assumed powerlifting was the domain of huge, burly men wearing a lot of material strapped around various parts of their body pushing and pulling bars loaded with ten or more plates around. I didn't know there were other faces and sizes who competed within the sport, so I dismissed it and focused on training in a way that echoed the training of bodybuilding and figure competitors. For two years, I remained mostly self-taught in this pursuit and did manage to change my physique to an appreciable degree.
Unfortunately, I was incredibly weak, and the more I educated myself regarding strength training, the more aware of this fact I became. While I had managed to build an impressive set of deltoids, I could barely squat my bodyweight. Major muscle groups in my lower body lagged in development in comparison to the degree I had generated muscle growth in certain portions of my upper body, and I slowly came to realize that I was not working with enough weight or doing enough of the compound lifts to really develop true strength. I began looking for answers to how to take my lifting to the next level.
It was around this point in my lifting career that I met my current boyfriend, Kyle Keough. Ranked at the top of the 148 pound weight class in powerlifting, Kyle would destroy weights that were unfathomable to me when we went into the gym to lift together. Kyle knew of my tentative aspirations to become a physique competitor and respected my determination to find my own way through strength training. He also knew that the performance of compound barbell lifts would aid my desire to be successful in training my body for a physique-based competition, and together we began to explore the idea of integrating these more into my lifting programming. I still had not decided to train for powerlifting - in fact, the idea of competing at anything was something with which I struggled, and I was not even totally sure about training for a physique competition.
Everything changed the day I deadlifted for the first time. Kyle guided me to a pull of twice my bodyweight that session, and the feeling of working with such a weight using a whole-body effort was one upon which I knew I wanted to focus my efforts in the future. Incorporating training for maximal strength - the goal of powerlifting - will take your training to another level regardless of your ultimate goals. Training your body to handle lifts of a higher intensity for a lower range of repetitions will transfer over to efforts at hypertrophy - the process of generating more muscle fibers and thus bigger muscles through certain types of strength training - and will provide you with the stimulus you need to catalyze your body's adaptation to heavier loads.
Take the training Challenge for Triple Body Weight Lifts: Bench, Squat, Deadlift.
When I began training specifically for powerlifting, many things changed - including my body. I learned more about programming and different approaches to periodization my training in a way that gave my body the best chance to adapt to the forces I was asking it to bear. A defining aspect of the world of powerlifting is the variety in programming lifters use to build strength. While many lifters take different approaches to training for maximal strength, almost all of these approaches involve periodization and a planned progression over time.
If your strength training seems to have stalled, looking to the programming of powerlifters can help you unstick it. Once I began the process of periodized training for powerlifting, I broke through plateaus I had reached in my mostly-linearly-programmed strength training and my body changed - and continues to change - as a result.
Powerlifting tests strength for three main lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Many sports conditioning programs incorporate training for these lifts in order to help athletes develop more power in the execution of their chosen sport. If your strength training interests lie in developing Olympic weightlifting skills, training for maximal strength using principles employed by powerlifters will ultimately give you a maximal strength base from which you can improve the more velocity-dominant lifts that make up Olympic lifting. If you are interested in bodybuilding, adapting your training to include the larger compound lifts is a necessity in building a strength foundation that compliments hypertrophy work. If you're just interested in "getting stronger," like I was, joining the sport of powerlifting may be right for you.
No matter your size, gender, or age, powerlifting offers you the opportunity to set strength goals and meet them.
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